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Monday, March 20, 2023

Sun Haven

One of many farm sim style games released in recent years, Sun Haven is one that spent a good while in Steam Early Access before finally getting a 1.0 release in March of 2023.  But does it stand out from the pack and deliver a good experience, or does it just get lost in a sea of similarly themed games?

Farming/life sim games had a pretty big resurgence after the runaway success of Stardew Valley, with numerous indie projects and established developers alike taking a shot at them; everything from the long-dormant Rune Factory franchise making a return to Square Enix publishing one under its banner with Harvestella, having it compliment a ruined world narrative.  A relatively recent Nintendo Direct was famously comprised of almost nothing but farming games, which drew some derision from viewers there.

Sun Haven is one I didn't see a lot of people talking about, though; probably because it was on Steam Early Access until very recently.  Still, I had a few bucks in credit to spare and saw that it had a discount to commemorate its proper 1.0 release, so I decided to give it a try.  What I found was a game that clearly fits into the same mold, but also puts quite a few twists of its own on the format.

A major one is that, having a more high fantasy setting than most games of this type, you get a choice of races for your character.  All have slightly different abilities from one another, and if you're playing the game in multiplayer, these benefits extend to all other players in the game, subtly encouraging everyone to play as a different race.  Humans craft items 20% faster, Elves get a bonus when wielding crossbows, Demons can give themselves a temporary speed boost, Angels get an innate healing ability, the Amari have a passive healing bonus, Elementals can actively restore Mana to themselves and their teammates, and Naga get a passive bonus to the fishing minigame.  One also gets a choice of a starting profession, which gives a different loadout for starting gear and an innate bonus or two.

The game also has a much heavier focus on its role-playing element than most.  Not just for building up relationships with townspeople and potential romances, though that's in there too of course.  The game has a Skyrim-esque leveling system split into 5 categories - Farming, Mining, Exploration, Fishing and Combat.  Doing even mundane things in those categories (from shaking fruit from trees to watering your crops) earns you experience in them, and once you gain a level, you get a skill point to spend to gain a permanent bonus under that heading.  These are quite vast as well - from earning more money for selling crops to innate bonuses to damage and defense to unlocking various crafting recipes.  You do level up surprisingly fast, too - at least three or four times a day in the early stages - so it keeps you wanting to play to advance your character's abilities.

The game as a number of daily quests to complete, all of which earn you experience points and your choice of an added bonus (generally more experience of a given type, or just some extra cash).  Sun Haven has a bit of a running storyline through it as well, with a "main quest" you undertake alongside your daily duties and whatever other optional ventures you want to undertake.  "Boss battles" of sorts also frequently occur throughout the game, with some just coming to cause havoc on your farm (like the weed boss that continually drops them on your farmland until you beat him in a jump rope contest.  Yes, really) while others are tied into the main storyline or optional events.

The town mine serves as your dungeon crawling fix for the game, allowing you to collect crafting components and battle monsters while also dealing with hazards in the form of monsters and platforming.  It's set up in a fairly clever way, too - rusted keys you find in the dungeon will grant you temporary access to later floors, while copper keys (bought or crafted) will permanently open that floor and let you return to it at any later time.  Every 10 floors you find a treasure chest with some goodies, and, as mentioned above, there are a couple of bosses to face in the depth of the mines too.

Of course, they also don't skimp on the mainstays of the farm game genre with Sun Haven.  You can an farm a wide variety of crops, smelt ore into metal bars, build furniture, raise animals, cook meals (all of which not only heal you, but give diminishing stat boosts unique to each one) and improve the town in various ways - reopening some closed shops, expanding the general store's inventory, et cetera.  There are two big things I like in Sun Haven, though - one is that you can adjust the length of a day between 10 and 40 minutes so you can get more done (or move ahead faster if you're at a slow point), but even more significant, there is no stamina bar in the game limiting what you can do in any given day.  You should still make an effort to be home and in bed by 12:00 AM, though, or you'll be taken to the hospital and lose a big chunk of money.

So, while I'm not the biggest fan of these farm sim games, I found quite a lot to like in Sun Haven.  Adding in a lot more RPG elements and leveling perks is certainly one, giving it the feel of a good Fallout or Skyrim and gradually letting you build up your character in the course of completing quests and personal goals.  The setting is a relatively fresh one as well, and I find the art style rather charming; oddly I get more of a Maniac Mansion vibe from the character sprites than something like 16-bit Final Fantasy, which is what Stardew invoked with its characters.  So if you enjoy these types of games or just want one that has considerably more of an RPG bent than most, Sun Haven is one you'll probably want to try out.

Developer: Pixel Sprout Studios
Publisher: Pixel Sprout Studios
Platform: PC, Switch
Released: 2023
Recommended Version: At present, the game is only available on PC, with some features not yet implemented and some bug fixes still underway.  The developers have expressed their intention to port the game to Switch starting with version 1.2, but no release date is available for that version as of this writing.